Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials in Chicago hired a media specialist to help craft a narrative defending their office from possible Trump administration budget cuts.
Chicago’s Region 5 EPA office hired local public relations consultant Joanna Klonsky to help agency officials communicate with the public about why the office should maintain its funding.
“We’re scientists, so you know, we’re not used to really talking to the public or having that eloquence or that gift to gab,” but hiring a media person “makes you feel a lot more comfortable,” Felicia Chase, a regional researcher for the EPA, told reporters on April 22.
EPA attorney Nicole Cantello said she and her colleagues were worried the agency was in jeopardy of losing funding, so they considered hiring a lobbyist to fend off budget cuts.
“We thought we had to hire a lobbyist,” she said. “But several people, including several Senators said to us, ‘No, you should hire a publicist.”
Their worries are based on recent unconfirmed reports that the Trump administration is planning on closing the Chicago-based EPA Region 5 office and consolidating it with Region 7 in Kansas. Chicago Sun Times’ cited unnamed city sources as the basis of their report.
EPA Acting regional administrator Robert Kaplan pushed back against the rumors, telling reporters a day after the April 18 report that the agency is not considering closing the region and “anyone stating anything to the contrary is spreading false information.”
The Chicago region came under intense scrutiny during the latter half of the Obama administration.
Region 5 – which encompasses parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio and employ nearly 1,500 federal workers – was dealt body blows last year, when its former regional administrator, Susan Hedman, was forced resign over her handling of last year’s Flint water crisis.
Flint citizens filed a lawsuit in January claiming the EPA’s Region 5 office failed to take the proper steps to ensure that state and local authorities were addressing the crisis. The defendants were seeking a civil action lawsuit for $722 million in damages.
The White House sent draft budget plans to agency heads Monday, detailing billions of dollars in cuts to a wide range of federal programs. Cuts to EPA and other agencies will fund a $54 billion increase in defense spending.
Trump’s budget proposed cutting nearly $2 billion from the EPA’s $8.1 billion budget. The president also “proposed reducing EPA’s 15,000-strong workforce to 12,000, a level not seen since the mid-1980s,” Politico reported in February at the time of the budget proposal.
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